2ND UPDATE, 12:40 PM PT: Fiona Hill faced a grilling by some Republicans as the impeachment inquiry resumed, but she had a standout moment when one of the lawmakers, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), complained that Democrats were engaged in a “coup.”
“We’re here just to provide what we know and what we’ve heard,” she said. “I understand that for many members, this may be hearsay. I’ve talked about things I’ve heard, with my own ears.”
She added, “We’re here to relate to you what we heard, what we saw, and what we did, and to be of some help to all of you in really making a very momentous decision here. We are not the people who make that decision.”
She then made an appeal to unity. “We need to be together again in 2020 so the American people can make a choice about the future …and make their vote in a presidential election without any fear this is be interfered in by any quarter whatsoever.”
She described Rudy Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy, but her remarks were aimed at assuring the House Intelligence Committee members of her non-partisan credentials.
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Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) asked her about conspiracy theories that have been promoted by Roger Stone and Alex Jones in which they called her a mole for George Soros and for being a “globalist leftist.”
Asked if the attacks have a “tinge of anti-semitism,” she said, “Certainly when they involve George Soros they do.” She compared the attacks to the early 20th century fabricated anti-semitic Russian text The Protocols of The Elders of Zion.
“This is the longest-running anti-Semitic trope that we have in history, and a trope against Mr. Soros was also created for political purposes, and this is the new Protocols of The Elders of Zion,” she said.
UPDATED, 10:05 AM PT: Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, said on Fox News that the testimony he has heard from witnesses was “nowhere close” to showing impeachable offenses.
“My assessment of the evidence [so] far? Nowhere close. The evidence is conflicting and ambiguous,” he said on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom. During a break in the testimony of Fiona Hill and David Holmes on Thursday, he also said that what Democrats lack is evidence of President Donald Trump’s “state of mind,” or intent to commit a crime.
Although on Wednesday, Starr referred to Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony as a “bombshell,” he later said that the “record at the end of the day is likely to be ambiguous at best, conflicting at best.”
Starr’s Wednesday comments quickly spread on Twitter, as he noted, “There will be Articles of impeachment. I think we have known that and it was just confirmed today.” But Starr was pointing not to his own opinion, but to the direction that he thought that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, appeared to be taking. Schiff had emphasized contempt of Congress in his opening remarks, and Sondland complained that he had been stymied in his attempt to get access to State Department records.
Starr initially referred to Sondland’s testimony as “one of those bombshell days.” But he later said that Republicans were “helped tremendously” when Sondland said that Trump had told him in a September phone call that he wanted “nothing” from Ukraine and that there was “no quid pro quo.”
But that conversation took place after administration officials were aware that a complaint was filed by a whistleblower, raising concerns over Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine.
PREVIOUSLY, 6:56 AM PT: A well-trafficked conspiracy theory, advanced in right-wing media, by some Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump himself, was in the spotlight of Thursday’s impeachment hearing.
Fiona Hill, who was formerly the top expert on Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, told the committee that the idea that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election is not only a “fictional narrative,” but that it is one that is advanced by the real culprit, Russia.
“I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016,” she said. “These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”
Her testimony is significant because Trump asked the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate one aspect of that narrative — that Ukraine somehow got ahold of the Democratic National Committee server that was hacked in the 2016 election. Among those who also has accused Ukraine of working with Trump’s political opponents is Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. On Wednesday, he argued that there was a reason for Trump to believe that Ukraine was out to “get him.”
Hill argued that such theories actually help Russia.
“President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a SuperPAC,” Hill said in the remarks. “They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives.”
She also singled out Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, as a key figure in advancing the false narrative.
“He was frequently on television, making quite incendiary remarks about everyone involved in this. He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would probably come back to haunt us. And in fact, I think that is where we are today.”
She said that John Bolton, when he was still Trump’s national security adviser, “said that Giuliani was a hand grenade who was going to blow everyone up.”
She recounted a conversation in which Bolton instructed her to tell the legal adviser to the National Security Council that “I am not part of this whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.”
Mulvaney is Trump’s acting chief of staff, and Sondland is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Hill was joined at the hearing on Thursday by David Holmes, a top Ukraine diplomat who was with Sondland when he made a call to Trump in July.
In his opening statement, Holmes testified that he overheard Trump ask Sondland about Zelensky, “So, he’s going to do the investigations?” “He’s going to do it. Do anything you ask him to,” Sondland replied, according to Holmes’ testimony. Holmes had been with Sondland at a lunch at a restaurant in Kiev when Sondland, using his cell phone, called the president.
Holmes also emphasized that he was an apolitical diplomat, unlike Sondland, a donor to Trump’s inauguration who the president nominated to serve as ambassador to the European Union. Sondland testified on Wednesday that for the most part, he had “no reason to doubt” Holmes’ account of the call.
Holmes also testified that Sondland told him that Trump only cared about the “big stuff” that benefited him, like the Biden investigation.
Before Holmes gave his opening statement, Trump tweeted his skepticism that Holmes could actually hear the call.
“I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life. My hearing is, and has been, great,” he wrote. “Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!”
But Holmes said that Trump’s voice was “loud” and “quite distinctive” and that when the president came on Sondland “kind of winced” and held the phone away from his ear.
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